Sunday, October 17, 2010

The Conservation Law Foundation and the Energy Education Project

Following the Money Again

On September 30, the Energy Education Project of the Ethan Allen Institute held its first meeting in Norwich Vermont. John McClaughry, of the Ethan Allen Institute, introduced the speakers and attended the meeting.

A few days later, McClaughry posted about the meeting at Vermont Tiger: Conservation Law Foundation's Interesting Strategy. (Vermont Tiger is a non-partisan, free-market-oriented blog that covers taxes, energy supply, environment and business climate in Vermont.)

In his post, McClaughry discussed Bob Hargraves' explanation of the Conservation Law Foundation's opposition to Vermont Yankee. The CLF "Venture" affiliate helps build natural gas plants, and recently helped a large company (AES) construct a large combined cycle natural gas plant (720 MW) in New Hampshire. AES is a Fortune-1000 company that has built fossil plants in 26 countries. I blogged about the CLF and the gas plant in my post: Follow the Money. As McClaughry wrote:

So the nonprofit CLF hollers for shutting down Vermont Yankee, which would produce a 600 Megawatt electricity deficit. At the same time, CLF’s for profit subsidiary is working to create a 720 megawatt natural gas fired plant to take its place.

That self interested arrangement makes it pretty hard for me to believe anything CLF says about nuclear power.

For Profit? Not for Profit?

However, though CLF Ventures was working for a multinational company, and doing the kinds of things law and PR firms do for their clients, John had one thing incorrect. CLF Ventures is a not-for-profit. CLF was quick to respond to his post. Karen Wood of CLF wrote this comment:

(CLF Ventures) is a NON-PROFIT consulting affiliate of CLF. CLF Ventures advances CLF's mission to protect New England's environment by working with business, government and other non-profit organizations to help them operate sustainably and successfully.

Around the time Ms. Wood posted this, I had also written a comment referring people to my February post on Follow the Money. My comment received an angry response from Sandra Levine, one of the lead CLF lawyers who brings suit against Vermont Yankee. Ms. Levine wrote: The information in this post is old and out of date – much like Vermont Yankee. ("this post" refers to my February follow-the-money post.)

In subsequent comments, I pointed out that
  • The information in my February post was taken directly from the CLF Ventures website that was posted at that time
  • Ms. Levine, lawyer-like, did not say my information was incorrect, because that would have implied the CLF website at the time had incorrect information. Instead, she side-stepped by saying it was "old and out of date," implying it was incorrect
  • Since CLF Ventures did the kind of tasks for a multi-national firm that law firms do for big firms, (such as advising the owners on a permitting strategy), thinking that CLF Ventures is for-profit was an easy mistake to make.
Finally, Rod Adams of Atomic Insights blog had a great comment, pointing out that:

The point here is to recognize that the effort to shut down nuclear plants is not a battle of evil, money hungry corporations on one side and altruistic grannies on the other.

There is a LOT of money involved in destroying nuclear plants and building replacement power plants. There is even more money involved in replacing the rather small quantity of fuel required to operate the nuclear plant with a much larger quantity of no longer "cheap" natural gas.

A 720 MWe gas plant will burn 110 million cubic feet of natural gas every day, even if it is a super efficient plant operating at 60% thermal efficiency. That much natural gas, even at today's relatively low price costs nearly $500,000.

And so, it always comes down to....follow the money.

Ethan Allen Institute and John McClaughry

The Energy Education Project was recently announced on the Ethan Allen Institute website. You can also link to both presentations at the first meeting in my post about the meeting.

I have been very lucky to work with John McClaughry of the Ethan Allen Institute. He is a former Vermont State Senator and founder of the Ethan Allen Institute. He also holds a M.S. in nuclear engineering. McClaughry has been writing about energy in Vermont for a long time, and I recommend that people read McClaughry's commentaries on Energy and Climate at the Ethan Allen website. I always agree with McClaughry about Vermont Yankee, and usually agree with him on other energy issues. (Good thing, since the Energy Education Project is part of the Institute he founded!) All McClaughry's comments are well-reasoned, direct, and worth reading.


Since I just started a branch of a not-for-profit, I sure wish I knew how a law firm can do law-firm stuff for a Fortune 1000 company and still be a not-for-profit. Many not-for-profits take grants from big companies, of course, but helping a company with a siting strategy is a horse of another color. There are moments that I wish I were a lawyer.

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